Kate Elliott – Shadow Gate

Middle books of trilogies are always complicated to review as they always suffer from the typical judgment of how they manage to stand on their own while having no real beginning or end while they still need to connect the greater story of which many threads will still be incomplete at the end.

Shadow Gate (2008), the second book of Crossroads, by Kate Elliott is no exception. Elliott takes a different approach to tackle the above mentioned problem by introducing a number of chapters containing flashbacks of a few characters so that some independent short stories are told and backstories that were not convenient to be covered in the first book have their space and time now.  These flashbacks allow more variation and more satisfaction for the reader who learns more of things that were a kind of mystery before.

The downside to this approach is that there is less space for story development in the present. Elliott gives more attention to the characters and how they cope with changing circumstances. Another reason is, and I now speak in hindsight, is that Elliott does try to provide a kind of finale for this middle book, but what she has in mind also slows the story development. To keep the pace evenly divided between the flashback stories and the main story she creates a meager finale that does not have the impact it might have. Overall Elliott does not seem to aim for great drama and conflicts and steers into more of a middle road. It is gentle reading with light excitement in which the reader already knows how it will turn out although there is still the slight possibility Elliott might choose another path, because sometimes she does and those are the little twists that make more of this story.

What still stands in this second novel is the original setting and world-building which is explored a little more. The characters all stay far from cliché and are interesting and intriguing when we can only observe them. The fantastical elements remains restricted and very limited. It is merely a minor component required for building the story setting.

So can I say this middle book stands out among its brethren? Not really. Elliott makes some interesting attempts to make more of it but the mini-finale is meager compared to the finale of the first book. There is not enough subtlety and surprises to give it sufficient body. It is a fine middle book that sets things up nicely for the third and final book. It is a pleasant read which will entertain in its refreshing environment and well-crafted characters.


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